When Deborah Lipstadt authored her first book on the subject of Holocaust denial, the “revisionist” historian David Irving took her to court. Because of the idiosyncrasies of Britain’s libel laws, Lipstadt and her lawyers had to prove that the Holocaust actually happened. The trial is the subject of the recent film Denial. In his review, Gavriel Rosenfeld writes:
Denial . . . portrays Irving as a self-described “outsider” who seeks to provoke an establishment whose acceptance he secretly craves. . . .
Denial thus joins the growing chorus of opposition to the epistemological skepticism that came with postmodernism. As the prominent theorist Bruno Latour recently argued, the postmodern notion that “facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth” has been exploited by “dangerous extremists.” . . . As conspiracy theorists and others abuse the idea that facts are socially constructed, the time has arrived, Latour concluded, to get “closer to facts.”
This injunction is not, of course, a specifically Jewish one, but Denial shows the dangers of spurious skepticism by showing the continuing threat posed by the epitome of unreason: anti-Semitism. . . .
Beyond defending reason and truth, Denial suggests that an effective response to hatred may be found in the unapologetic embrace of one’s own identity. Lipstadt is seen in the film quietly chanting the traditional funeral prayer El maleh raḥamim together with [the historian Robert Jan] van Pelt on their visit to Auschwitz. In an even more revealing scene, she is horrified by the passive attitude of some British Jews toward anti-Semitism. When some guests at a dinner party organized to help support her defense suggest that she just settle with Irving, she rejects the request out of hand, calling it “appeasement.”
Although the world faces new dangers, Denial shows how an important victory over an age-old prejudice can inspire us to trust our convictions.